CHina’s increasingly aggressive geopolitical and economic stance around the world is unleashing a fierce bipartisan backlash in the United States. That’s fine if it leads to increased public investment in basic research, education, and infrastructure, as the Sputnik shock did in the late 1950s. But it also presents dangers.
More than 60 years ago, the sudden and palpable fear that the Soviet Union would get ahead of us shook the United States out of postwar complacency and caused the nation to do what it should have been doing for many years. Although we did it under the pretext of national defense, we call it the National Defense Education Law and the National Defense Highways Law and we rely on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration for the basic research that leads to semiconductors, technology satellite and Internet. The result was to boost American productivity and wages for a generation.
When the Soviet Union began to implode, the United States found its next contrast in Japan. Japanese-made cars were taking market share from the big three automakers. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi bought a substantial stake in Rockefeller Center, Sony bought Columbia Pictures, and Nintendo considered buying the Seattle Mariners. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, countless Congressional hearings were held on the Japanese “challenge” to American competitiveness and the Japanese “threat” to American jobs.
A tide of books demonized Japan: Pat Choate’s Agents of Influence claimed that Tokyo’s supposed benefits to influential Americans were designed to achieve “effective political domination over the United States.” Clyde Prestowitz’s Trading Places argued that due to our inability to adequately respond to the Japanese challenge “the power of the United States and the quality of American life is rapidly declining in all respects.” In the Shadow of the Rising Sun by William S. Dietrich, he claimed that Japan “threatens our way of life and ultimately our freedoms just as much as the past dangers of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.”
Robert Zielinski and Nigel Holloway’s Unequal Equities argued that Japan manipulated its capital markets to undermine American corporations. Yen by Daniel Burstein! Japan’s new financial empire and its threat to the United States claimed that Japan’s growing power put the United States at risk of falling prey to a “hostile Japanese world order.”
He continued: The Japanese Power Game, The Coming War with Japan, Zaibatsu America: How Japanese Companies Are Colonizing Vital US Industries, The Silent War, Trade Wars.
But there was no cruel plot. We didn’t realize that Japan had invested heavily in its own education and infrastructure, allowing it to make high-quality products that American consumers wanted to buy. We did not see that our own financial system resembled a casino and demanded immediate profits. We overlook that our educational system left nearly 80% of our youth unable to understand a news magazine and many others unprepared for work. And our infrastructure of unsafe bridges and bumpy roads was sapping our productivity.
In the current case of China, the geopolitical rivalry is palpable. Yet at the same time, US corporations and investors are quietly making packages by operating low-wage factories there and selling technology to their Chinese “partners.” And American banks and venture capitalists are busily signing deals in China.
I do not mean to downplay the challenge China poses to the United States. But throughout America’s postwar history, it has been easier to blame others than ourselves.
The greatest danger we face today does not come from China. It is our drift towards proto-fascism. We must be careful not to demonize China so much that we foster a new paranoia that further distorts our priorities, fosters nativism and xenophobia, and leads to higher military outlays rather than public investments in education, infrastructure, and basic research on which the future prosperity of the United States. and security critically depend.
The central question for the United States, an increasingly diverse America, whose economy and culture are rapidly merging with the economies and cultures of the rest of the world, is whether it is possible to rediscover our identity and our mutual responsibility without creating another enemy.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism